Wednesday, January 5, 2011

downhill and the way back up

this is the part where things get a little fuzzy, when life swept in to knock me off of my feet. it would be over a year (from july 2008 to july 2009) before i returned to new york. in november '08, only three weeks after quitting my day job, i started two new jobs -- one as a nanny, and one as a photographer. by february, my nanny clients moved out of the country, and my photographer position was simply seasonal. i posted an inquiry on craigslist and shortly secured another nanny position. in the meantime, i'd decided to throw myself whole-heartedly into my own photography business, and broke my lease on a great small house to move to a much larger, more expensive one on a commercial street. i'm not saying i entirely deserved every bit of bad that ran my way after that, but i will say that it's never a good idea to break a lease (unnecessarily), get a credit card (when you have no previous debt), and move (to a large, expensive live/work spot) in order to start a small business. it ended like many best-laid plans -- almost entirely laid to waste, and i with them.

the little boy whose nanny i'd become in march '09 was a soothing balm. my work wasn't easy, by any means, but it provided a necessarily fulfillment while the rest of my life crumbled around me. in july, his family was traveling by car to westchester county, ny, and asked me to ride along to keep him entertained. they knew i had friends in new jersey, and were more than happy to drop me off to spend the week until they needed me for the drive back to north carolina. again, new york renewed me, but this time, it took a bit longer than usual. my first few days were filled with stress and sleeping. i wandered around in a haze until at least the third day. my camera was ever-present, and i'd recently acquired a new lens (50mm 1.8), with which i captured the city in bits and bites. i ambled through the met, not once, but twice. i ate alone, long and luxurious meals that mildly annoyed the waitstaff. i got lost crossing central park. i rode the staten island ferry on its deck, hair blowing wildly, wanting to scream but holding it in. i dallied and lagged, stretching every single day into oblivion. i had no desire to return to north carolina and face the life i'd made.

i did return, though. every day felt the same, and though my situation needed a huge change, i had no energy to propel it. i have a history of making what appear to be snap decisions on some of the most important choices in my life. truth be told, i am very internal (part of why i struggle to write now). i think far too much for my own good, about every possible outcome. i rarely act without thoroughly examining, though sometimes circumstances allow me to make a decision sooner than i'd planned. my motto in latter years has become, "distance equals self-control." it was that distance, from the house i felt trapped in, from the friends i couldn't relate to, and even from my on-again off-again beau, that finally allowed me to see clearly. november '09 was one breaking point, and with it came the tearful ability to make a decision i'd been incapable of making previously. with that, the freedom to move on. i was determined, after my previous experience, not to violate the terms of my lease, but i began apartment-hunting in the new year. i found a beautiful loft that could function as a live-work space for photography, seven blocks from my nanny job. my best friend J christened it perfectly: "my new york in north carolina." crawling out of the deep, dark hole i'd dug was emotionally exhausting and ultimately, would become the most intimately revealing thing i've done to this point in my life.

a change of scenery wasn't my only need. i nixed all of my unhealthy relationships, and began to work on myself, peeling away the layers to discover what i am and am not. i also set about trying to correct some of the missteps i'd taken in the past two years, financially. with the weight lifted, i began to feel like an artist again. when my passion for art surged, in the past, i had felt my passion for everything else wane. the birth of my best friend's child in may '10 changed that. i spent over twenty four hours in the hospital with them, on the day leading up to his birth. camera in hand, i was able to mix my art, my love for my friends, and my love for children. suddenly, it didn't feel like a burden or a sacrifice -- it felt like exactly where i was supposed to be, at exactly the right time. suddenly, i was a thousand pieces defined, a whole human being. i could be an artist, and a care provider. i needed both, simultaneously, to feel complete. my worldview, my passions, my beliefs were all coming together into one great symphony, and i was finally in conducting it. add one tiny, fussing baby and two bewildered parents in want of any kind of guidance (mine included), and i felt in control of the world.

summer faded into fall, and into the coldest winter north carolina's seen since i was a child. new york was in the back of my mind, as always, but i knew a trip wasn't possible while trying to pay down my debts. i spent lots of time doing low-cost activities, like listening to bad karaoke with good people. my friend C joined me for one of these sessions, and we talked about the future and what it might hold, for both of us. he was considering heading back to japan; i, of course, spoke of new york, of my love for the city and a change of address that would likely never happen. a hundred questions and a hundred bad excuses later, he told me that if i really wanted to do it, then to do whatever it takes. sell everything you own. leave what you've come to call your life behind, and make a new one. if it will fulfill you, if it means this much, then just GO. this friend is not a dreamer, but a do-er, and was also pushing himself as much as he was pushing me. he'd also grown to know me well, and knew i was outgrowing my place. i left with no more reasons holding me back. i wanted new york, its culture, its inspiration; i wanted the me who i'd become as soon as i stepped out onto those city streets -- smart, self-sufficient, and satisfied. would i leave behind my family, my few friends, to pursue the life new york could offer?

the day before my 26th birthday, my employer surprised me with a proposal -- they were traveling up to westchester for christmas, and offered to pay my round-trip airfare if i'd fly up to keep the little one for a few days. in less than ten minutes, my flights were booked for a trip that would extend through the new year. christmas-time with my family was wonderful, but north carolina was promised a white christmas which held the potential to trap me in my hometown. meanwhile, a blizzard hit new york that closed the airports and shut down the city. we were all worried that i wouldn't be able to fly out, but the airports reopened just in time to make my mid-week flight. my two days alone with the kiddo, including our first overnights together, were relaxed and easy. when our time was over, i took the train from ossining to grand central. i dragged myself and my luggage through the remnants of heavy snow, through times square to port authority, where i boarded a bus and headed for a familiar couch. i was a new york girl again. this time, i was also a whole person, confident and collected. i no longer needed the city to complete me. instead, i could come with open arms, embrace it, and add to it. when the time came to board the return flight, i wondered if i would return to my new york as a visitor or a resident. my answer wasn't as far away as i'd imagined.

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